Good or bad, mental health is a constant for us all, and one which shouldn’t be taken lightly. While the COVID-19 pandemic has shed a brighter light on the struggles of those with mental illnesses, schools and businesses around the globe have long since realised that positive mental health is more than a one-person perk.
A study by the US Conference Board in April this year revealed that almost 60% of employees in the States are deeply concerned about their mental health at work or school, especially considering the long-term effects of the pandemic itself on one’s general wellbeing.
Employers and educational institutions have now grasped the importance of mental wellbeing and that of an emotionally safe work or study environment for all those in it. Private firms are continuously encouraging staff members to open up about mental health issues they have already experienced, and have further invested in the mental wellbeing of employees. Some have even hired a full-time mental health professional to offer services to staff during work hours. Large companies, such as American Express, recently opened on-site health clinics in international offices to manage anything from high blood pressure and obesity to anxiety, depression and bereavement.
Mental health professionals also note how throughout recent years a record number of employees from an array of sectors experienced burn-outs, and have been keen to take their work home to keep up with deadlines and the employer’s expectations. This can not only result in ‘new’ cases of anxiety but also further deter an employee already suffering the disorder.
But here’s the catch. Employers themselves have seen an impeccable return on investment from staff members, once it was proved to them that they are looked after. Mentally healthy workplaces will experience higher levels of productivity, not to mention better communication between staff members, who choose to stay with their company long-term.
Mentally healthy workplaces will experience higher levels of productivity.
The World Health Organization estimated that the global economy loses up to a trillion US Dollars per year due to the effects of anxiety and depression. By 2020, the global market could also suffer a $16 trillion, along with 12 billion ‘absent’ working days. These numbers, and constant research by the World Health Organization itself, private firms, and notable medical journals such as The Lancet, have helped institutions around the globe comprehend the true economic burden of mental health-ignoring the signs rather than treating them.
Uncared-for mental health issues have also been tied to higher dropout rates in schools, particularly 15-17 year-olds. While schools all over the world are striving to decrease the number of early school leavers, several European countries have taken it upon themselves to dive into the core of why young adults stop investing in their future. As part of the recent Solution by Inclusion initiative by Erasmus+, educational institutions around Malta, Italy and Denmark are currently collecting feedback from students themselves about what they feel is needed within the school system to help them through potential mental issues.
Educators and institutions around the Maltese Islands are also adapting to the array of social issues now present in our communities, some of which have forced students to turn to their schools for help. COVID-19 has further isolated them from normal day-to-day activities both at school and outside. With the Solution by Inclusion initiative, which is expected to produce tangible results by 2023, schools in European countries will trace the early-school-leaving issue to its very core for it to be solved.
The drive for a mentally safe work or study environment was also given a firm push from the Maltese Government, currently implementing Malta’s national mental health strategy, which aims at polishing available services by 2030. Malta was also one of many to quickly commit to a 2019 EU Directive on the matter. This paved the way for employers across the bloc to balance out socio-economic priorities, while also still attracting business. All EU Member states have until the coming August to improve employees’ access to family leave and flexible work arrangements. The concept of employees or students taking a personal day off from work or school to recharge and care for their emotions has also become common practice, with most workplaces deemed it a fit enough reason for vacation leave.
Looking to workplaces, schools and governments to look after our mental health will take us places, yet the most important tool remains closest to home. In the trajectory towards a mentally safer world, let us not forget to start with ourselves first and allow ourselves to take a step back when we see the signs.
As they say, we cannot pour from an empty cup.